When Zach Collins joined the Portland Trail Blazers as the 10th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, it wasn’t clear where on the court he’d have the biggest impact. An inside scorer at Gonzaga without the length and athleticism required to do the same at the professional level, he spent the first couple months of his career riding the bench and raising worries about his fit in the league. In mid-December Collins entered the rotation for the Trail Blazers and hasn’t looked back since. He has essentially excised Meyers Leonard from Portland’s plans, in the process snuffing out any anxiety about his ability to play in the NBA.
Early in the season, even the Trail Blazers weren’t entirely sure how to use their new multi-faceted big man. Was he going to be best on the block, where he torched opponents in college? Would he be a pick-and-roll partner for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum? Could Portland’s coaching staff develop his outside game quickly enough for him to be a threat from beyond the arc during the prime years of guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum?
The answers to these questions are…well…still up in the air. Collins got a healthy dose of post touches early in the year and proved to be wholly inadequate down low. He has 39 post-ups on the season and ranks dead last in efficiency among 90 players with at least that many opportunities on the block. He committed six turnovers against nine made shots in those 39 possessions. While that’s a relatively small sample size, it’s fair to say that his NBA impact will not be as the dominant post scorer he was in college.
Collins doesn’t possess the quickness to take advantage of his larger counterparts and can’t overpower smaller players. Teams have had success going small against Portland and putting a combo forward on Collins, as Phoenix and Oklahoma City did in these clips:
Despite a significant height advantage on both Jared Dudley and Carmelo Anthony, he’s unable to establish deep position and takes inefficient shots in both circumstances. He’s shown some modicum of a face-up game in the post, but nothing that would require head coach Terry Stotts to take away touches from other players to give them to Collins.
Over the last month, Collins has migrated toward the perimeter, where he’s still not particularly efficient but has been much better than he is down low. Despite taking very few three-pointers in college, signs pointed to his potential as a spot-up threat. The mechanics of his shot look good when he’s able to get his feet set and has a clear view of the basket, which will lend itself to a certain amount of usefulness for the Trail Blazers. Watch below how his shot looks when he’s stationary and able to get everything lined up before the ball arrives:
Although a bit slow on the release, there’s little to dislike about this shot. He has his hands up and ready to receive the ball, hops into the catch, goes into his motion with no hesitation, and finishes with the follow-through. Being able to knock down these open shots is key for Collins, as it will force opposing defenses to guard him on the perimeter and open more space for his teammates, even though his individual shooting percentage may go down.
At first, his percentage may plummet, since he’s an entirely different shooter when he’s tightly guarded or when he’s not set:
In the above clip, Collins was still retreating to the corner, the pass was slightly off target, and Sacramento’s Vince Carter was closing out hard, leading to the miss that followed. Shooting on the move is not in Collins’ repertoire at this point; he doesn’t have the footwork down to knock down shots like this yet. While this would be a great addition to his game and would allow the Trail Blazers to call plays designed for him, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to master the type of footwork on these shots that makes the best stretch bigs so valuable.
Collins is absolutely still a work in progress, as you’d expect for a 20-year-old eight months removed from being drafted into the NBA. Portland has tried him in a couple of roles and will try to expand his game across multiple areas over the next few years to help him fulfill his offensive potential as an all-around scorer, but it seems more likely at this point that his role on a quality playoff team is further out on the perimeter than down low, as he was used at Gonzaga. Just being able to knock down a solid percentage of open threes will make him a valuable rotation piece. The rest of his game will come as his skills and body mature into what they will be years from now.